Sunday, 6 March 2016


Hometown Downtown Tourists

Once we’d finished the New York Times Saturday crossword and cleaned up all the cat puke Ann and I decided to go downtown and check out the state of our city’s core. The temperature outside was in the high teens and from beyond slight gashes in the cloud cover, the sun suggestively hinted at a few brief shining moments.

Our first stop was City Market Downtown which occupies the expansive foyer of City Hall during the winter months. The scale of the summer outdoor farmers’ market is necessarily reduced, the fields are still frozen. The vendors occupying the interior booths specialized in baked goods, meats and crafts. We toured the modest circuit easily enough, no jostling, few shoppers; was it the economy or just the time of the season? Ann located the fellow who sells the spicy peanuts she likes so much. We bought some homemade potato samosas but only after ensuring they weren’t gluten free.

Churchill Square is the great public plaza that hosts City Hall and anchors downtown Edmonton. Saturday the ice rink was too soft to skate on. Few people were about; there were more NO SMOKING SIGNS than citizens. We looked at the ugly façade opposite, the main branch of the city’s library network, due for an extensive, expensive and welcome makeover. The Band-Aid SPREAD THE WORDS banners cannot conceal the existing design atrocity.

Edmonton is a young city even by Canadian standards. Its Brutalist development and modernization in the late 60s and during the first major oil boom of the 70s has left a legacy of massive blank walls and shadowy dead spaces, Ayn Rand architecture gone to town with a certain ironic Soviet sensibility. Some of these uninspired monoliths could at least use a little lipstick at street level because it’s unlikely some sort of Great Fire catastrophe will enable us to restart from scratch under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.

Behind us and behind City Hall the new Royal Alberta Museum is nearing completion. To our right, cranes assemble Katzville, which the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, bent on some kind of Tammany Hall hold on all entertainment in the capital region, insists be called Ice District. Here’s praying somebody gets at least something right with the new buildings as the City itself is incapable of managing bridge repairs or even adding a properly functioning spur to the existing light rail transit system.

We walked along Jasper Avenue. The busiest store on our main street was the 7-11, a sign of the times perhaps. We stopped in the Wee Book Inn. Ann bought a copy of Fahrenheit 451. We’ve both read it but there’s not a copy in the house and that seems wrong somehow because some days the idea of firemen setting fires doesn’t seem so far fetched. I searched vainly for Colonel Sun, the first post-Fleming Bond novel, written by Kingsley Amis. Further down the street at Audreys Books I found myself on the fiction shelves beside Lisa Moore. Her latest novel Caught was a Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee. The cover of her book was facing the browser. I twisted her spines so that they now faced outward and turned my novel Duke Street Kings to show off the three pints of beer on its cover. Ann took a picture of the rearranged shelf to feed my rich fantasy life. I felt a little guilty afterward, like a Catholic shoplifter, maybe.

Our final mission was to locate the new Needle Vinyl Tavern in the old CKUA building on Jasper, situate the pertinent train station. Downtown, hell, Edmonton needs another viable and vibrant live music venue unconstrained by the implied formalities of its small auditoriums; most artists would rather play a club just because of the atmosphere. We found plywood hoarding, scaffolding and an indifferent tradesman wearing an Incredible Hulk t-shirt. The tavern is supposed to open sometime later this month. I’m on the VIP list, all that took was an e-mail. Ann, Geoff and Hulk hope Needle Vinyl Tavern smash! Our hopes are high and those are good feelings.

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